Nations must double down on AI R&D — or risk falling behind

Nations must double down on AI R&D — or risk falling behind

Artificial Intelligence technology is waiting for its Sputnik moment.

The Soviet Union put its infamous unmanned probe into orbit around our planet in 1957. Though Sputnik resembled a two-foot wide beach ball and barely weighed 200 pounds, it was a shot heard around the world. Sputnik signaled that there was new territory in play for world powers to jockey and improve their positions. The United States formed NASA the very next year, and manned space exploration became practical reality soon after that.

There’s a clear comparison between the space race of the 1960s and the present-day surge in national AI development. Where rocket design and space exploration were the hallmarks of any major country back then, the new battlefield for technological superiority is Artificial Intelligence. Countries that develop sufficiently advanced AI tools will gain access to a new category of tools to use for the benefit of their citizens and the disadvantage of their rivals.

Take it from Vladimir Putin, who said in 2017 that whichever country becomes a leader in Artificial Intelligence “will become ruler of the world.” China, Russia, Israel, and the United States generally set the tone for AI research today. Though these countries are divided by culture and distance, they (and many others) agree: there’s just too much to gain here, so AI research is heating up.

There have already been incremental shifts demonstrating the rise of AI, like Garry Kasparov’s 1997 defeat at the chessboard by Deep Blue or the genesis of practical driverless vehicles that rely on AI technology today. But it seems we’re still waiting for a paradigm shift here — the public mostly forms its impressions of Artificial Intelligence from entertainment. When everyday people recognize movie-style AI technology in the real world, they’ll begin to understand its full impact

But the “secret” is already out for many. AI startups made approximately $5 billion worth of equity deals in 2016, and this value has been growing by approximately 50 percent every year since. Governments and research institutions around the world have their own projects that we may or may not ever know about. AI isn’t necessarily providing transformative value to everyday people just yet, but its value to business and governments is already well-established.

Here’s why developed nations should be doubling down on AI research and development.

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